Minnesota Wild 2-3 (ot) Buffalo Sabres
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Tough loss, but being down 2-0 and in a game where they frankly looked like they were going through the motions all night against a team with whom there is no history or animosity on which to build, I guess you take the loser point and go home.
Wild came out of the gate with pace. Clearly, with Ryan Miller our and Jhonas Enroth in, they wanted to get on top early and often. All was going well until a bad Brent Burns turnover to THomas Vanek led to a three on two with Vanek to Steve Montador to Jason Pominville making Burns and Schultz looks out of positi9on and lost. Easy goal for the Sabres and a nice lead.
The rest of the first period was more of the same. decent pressure by the Wild, but the Sabres collapsed well and turned any Wild attack into a nice counter.
Second period started with more of the same, as the Sabres controlled the play by limiting the Wild's chances. Rob Neidermayer put Buffalo up 2-0 with his first of the season as Jose Theodore left another fat rebound in the slot. The crowd took the 2-0 deficit as a reason to begin booing the hometown club when the Wild were unable to make anything happen with a power play killed by turnovers.
In a game dictacted by turnovers, Brad Staubitz took advantage of a deep Sabres turnover, when he was floating around the neutral zone, took a long headman pass and rifled a centering attempt toward Warren Peters, who buried it for his third career goal. That goal ended a scoreless streak dating back to November of 2009 and 19 games. Yeah, 19 games in 17 months. That pretty much tells the story.
Marek Zidlicky, who has not been a major factor since returning from a grade 3 shoulder separation, fell in open ice after a pass and fanned on a one-timer attempt and fell on a delayed penalty. Let's be honest, he is likely nowhere near 100%, and whether or not he's actually helping the team in his current state is debatable. Anyway, he redeemed himself a bit by burying a nice snapshot on a one-timer from Pierre-Marc Bouchard to give the Wild a power play goal. It was a beautiful shot, but doesn't silence the question about Zidlicky's health.
The third period was a bit of a chess game, with each side looking to take advantage of the limited opportunities, and being silenced in each and every one. The Sabres collapse when the Wild had numbers better than just about anyone else I've seen this season. Every time the Wild came in with numbers, the Sabres defensemen know when to take the shooter and when to break off to cover the passing lanes, and the Wild are stymied. It's fabulous.
As the third period went on, it appeared more and more that the Wild were content to get to OT and take the loser point. It wasn't so much that they were outmatched, but they were dropping back into coverage unless they had numbers. It turned into a bit of an up and down game, as each team tried to get the home run shot, but didn't want to get caught out of position.
OT winner for Drew Stafford. Nice win for Buffalo as Stafford outmuscled Brent Burns for the puck down low and buried it. That was a really nice goal for a highly talented player.
On the Sabres: This team should not be in the position they are. Look at this roster and tell me what they're missing. I just don't get it. Is Lindy Ruff losing it? Are they trying to play a system for which they lack the personnel? Seriously, it makes no sense to me. They look technically strong, they have an elite goaltender, good offensive talent, they could use another puck-moving defenseman, but even then they shouldn't be outside the playoffs looking in. I mean, it's the East, it's not like the competition is that much better than they are. Anyway, it must be frustrating to be a Sabres fan, because these guys should be fun to watch, but they aren't getting the wins.
Another game, another first period nap followed by some great hockey. The Wild were completely out played for about 25 minutes to start the game, came out roaring, tied the game, and then went into a prevent defense that the Steelers would be proud of. The Sabres looked like they wanted it the whole game, and they proved it by taking home the extra point. Not having Ryan Miller in net wasn't an issue as Jhonas Enroth performed admirably, joined by Drew Stafford and Thomas Vanek. It was most certainly clear who wanted it more tonight.
Pushing the "Every Game Counts" meme in the arena and out, the game ops folks may want to show that to the players. For a team fighting for their playoff lives, the effort certainly was not there like it should have been. They will now need to re-group and find some points on the road. Welcome to the Minnesota State Hockey Tournament, hockey fans.
Hockey Wilderness Three Stars
- Jose Theodore gets a second straight start. Is this the right move? Yes. He was giving up fat rebounds all night, and the second goal was his fault, but Backstrom has been in a funk and needs to get his head right.
- Can Casey Wellman continue to spark the team? Wellman was a non-factor much of the night.
- Can the Wild solve Miller, or does he shut it down? Since he was out, it really didn't matter, but Enroth looked decent.
- Who steps up for the Wild tonight? Martin Havlat was everywhere tonight, clearly the best player on the ice, but couldn't get anyone to give him the help he needed.
- Is there anyone in Minnesota who has any issue with the Sabres? I can't imagine. They are a decent group of guys (Kaleta aside) who have talent and I just don't understand their problem.